Mon 9 Jul 2012
Filed under: ASEAN
Travel agents yesterday warned the government that Myanmar’s rapidly growing tourism sector could put Thailand’s position as a major regional gateway at risk.
The comments came as Myanmar’s deputy tourism minister U Htay Aung told the Sasin Bangkok Forum yesterday that his country was ramping up its tourism infrastructure to cope with a sharp rise in the number of visitors.
He conceded that the Myanmar tourism industry was still in its infancy, but pointed to rapidly increasing visitor numbers.
Between January and June of this year, the number of foreigners flying in to Yangon and Mandalay airports was 50% higher than the same period in 2011, U Htay Aung said.
Market analysts believe Myanmar has strong potential to establish itself as a prime tourism destination in Southeast Asia following democratic reforms.
U Htay Aung said infrastructure development is key to achieving this goal.
He said his country has drawn up a tourism master plan which has received backing for its efforts from the Norwegian government.
Plans are afoot for a new international airport, 50km from Yangon, to be constructed over the next few years.
He said investors in hotel and tourism infrastructure are expected to flock to Myanmar in the near future.
With the rising number of tourists, businessmen and international visitors, Myanmar now has a severe shortage of hotel rooms, he said.
The lack of prior tourism infrastructure development in Myanmar was partially because of sanctions by Western countries, U Htay Aung said, while political and security issues were also obstacles.
Communicable diseases and natural disasters had also kept tourists to Myanmar at bay, he said.
Some foreign hotels and investors had left the country because of sanctions in the past, he said.
“With the commitment to progressive reforms by the government that came to power through a general election in 2011, including national reconciliation and restructuring of the economy, the tourism sector will be revived,” he said.
The Shangri-La Group is constructing a 240-room hotel, while the Accor Group and India’s Oberoi are also interested in investing in Myanmar, U Htay Aung said.
There are about 25,000 hotels and guesthouses across Myanmar.
U Htay Aung said foreigners are allowed a 100% investment in hotels and restaurants, but investors cannot obtain land ownership and businesses must operate on a 45-year land lease period.
He said new investment regulations were being considered. Myanmar President Thein Sein recently approved a five-year short-term development plan from fiscal year 2011 to 2015 that aims for average gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.7% and for a three-fold increase in per-capita GDP.
Charoen Wangananont, secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the government must adopt a constructive strategy to enjoy mutual benefits from Myanmar’s development.
He said inconsistent policies made Thailand vulnerable to losing tourists to other countries in the region.